The Republican senator leading the inquest into Fast & Furious said he has a mixed reaction to the Sept. 19 Justice Department Inspector General report on the operation that day.
“Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters,” said Charles E. “Chuck” Grassley (R.-Iowa), who with Rep. Darrell E. Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is trying to piece together the facts as to what really happened inside the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives program that facilitated the flow of illegally purchased firearms into the hands of Mexican crime organizations.
The 512-page report, “A Review of ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious and Related Matters,” contains many details of the internal machinations of the rise and fall of gun walking scandal, yet many of the passages and footnotes are redacted.
“We still don’t know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General,” said Grassley, who has made himself the Senate’s premier protector of whistleblowers, the main reason ATF personnel sought him out.
The House of Representatives voted Aug. 13 to hold Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in Contempt of Congress for his refusal to fully cooperate with Issa and his committee.
“At first glance, the Inspector General’s report reaffirms virtually everything that Congressman Issa and I have already reported,” Grassley said.
“It’s clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious,” he said.
They ignored warnings from employees, and frankly, failed to do their jobs. It took the death of our own Border Patrol Agent, action by a courageous whistleblower, and intense scrutiny from Congress before they even took note of what was happening under their own eyes,” the Iowa senator said. “Even then, they wouldn’t come clean with how bad it really was until after they had sent a false letter and retracted it eight months later.”
The IG report documents how Phoenix U. S. Atty. Dennis K. Burke, the senior DOJ official overseeing the Fast & Furious operations in Arizona, misled members of the Terry family and repeatedly gave misleading information to his superiors at “Main Justice” in Washington.
The false letter is discussed in the report in great detail in “Chapter 6: The Department’s Statements to Congress Concerning ATF Firearms Trafficking Investigations.” After Brian A. Terry, an agent in the elite Border Patrol Tactical Unit, was killed on the night of Dec. 14, 2010 in a firefight with Mexican gangsters with bullet from AK-47-style rifle that was part of the Fast & Furious program, Grassley began to hear from whistleblowers about the program. In response to these reports, the senator sent a Jan. 27, 2011 letter to ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson.
In the letter, Grassley suggested that the ATF was careless or negligent in gun investigations and that he would like a response by Feb. 3, 2011.
The report quotes from the letter:
Members of the Judiciary Committee have received numerous allegations that the ATF sanctioned the sale of hundreds of assault weapons to suspected straw purchasers, who then allegedly transported these weapons throughout the southwestern border area and into Mexico. According to the allegations, one of these individuals purchased three assault rifles with cash in Glendale, Arizona on January 16, 2010. Two of the weapons were then allegedly used in a firefight on December 14, 2010 against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, killing CBP Agent Brian Terry. These extremely serious allegations were accompanied by detailed documentation which appears to lend credibility to the claims and partially corroborates them.
The inspector general reports that when Melson intended to reach out to Grassley to discuss the matter, but he was told to by Justice Department attorney Faith Burton that he could not because it would compromise ongoing investigations.
The report further details how ATF and Justice Department officials crafted the Feb. 4, 2011 response in a way to reveal only what they thought Grassley had the evidence already and to otherwise deceive the senator.
The letter was signed by Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general for Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. Breuer, a one-time law partner with Holder, withdrew the letter in December 2011.
Grasslely said he wished the report had drilled down on Breuer’s participation in the crafting of the letter.
“The report accepts Breuer’s version of events, claiming that he hadn’t ‘proposed edits, commented on the drafts or otherwise indicated he had read them,’” he said.
“In fact, emails show that he received drafts of the Feb. 4 letter and commented on them before it was sent, which he later denied to Congress,” he said.
“We’ll be reading the report in more detail. We’ve already noticed that the report contains a factual error that lets Asst. Atty. Gen. Lanny Breuer off the hook,” he said.
The IG report wraps up with Grassley’s Feb. 9 detailed response.
The night of that Grassley response, officials at DOJ decided to begin their own investigation into Fast & Furious with one emailing to the other: “We need to get to dig into this.”
Grassley said the report is not definitive, but it is confirmation that something went very wrong, he said.
“It’s particularly discouraging that this all could have been stopped early on if people had just read the wiretap applications,” he said.
“The Inspector General noted that anybody reading those documents should have seen the red flags. The law requires that certain senior officials authorize those applications, and the Inspector General found that they did so without reading them,” he said.
“I’m glad that the OIG is joining me and Chairman Issa in urging the Justice Department to move to unseal the wiretap applications so that the American people can read them and make up their own minds,” he said.
“The President also appears to be abusing his authority to exert executive privilege,” he said.
“The White House rightly allowed the Inspector General to make public a small subset of the documents withheld from Congress under his claim of executive privilege, but it continues to shut out Congress’ access to the rest of the documents,” he said.
The whole time, there were documents that the White House could have released, he said.
“It proves that this subset of documents could have been released earlier, and the president was merely thumbing his nose at Congress by claiming executive privilege on the eve of the contempt vote against Attorney General Holder for withholding the documents,” he said.
“It’s time to hold people accountable. Attorney General Holder is out of excuses for action.”